US Army partners with Marine Corps to 3D print drones

Researchers envisioned the project to on-demand print with a suite of tools that would allow for soldiers to enter mission parameters and then get a 3D printed aviation asset within 24 hours.

0 December 18, 2017
Staff

Drones are a hot topic these days with endless uses. One area where we are seeing more and more uses for drones is in military applications.

3D printed drone us army

Lance Cpl Nicholas Hettinga, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, prepares to pilot a 3D printed unmanned aircraft system, or drone, during a Sept. 27, 2017, test flight at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Photo credit: David McNally, US Army

As materials science, aviation technology and software development merge to deliver new capabilities, Army researchers are partnering with the Marines to develop 3D printed drones.

“Several years ago when we were collaborating with our academic partner, Georgia Tech, we had this project where we were focusing on design engineering of small unmanned aircraft systems,” said Eric Spero, a team lead within the laboratory’s Vehicle Technology Directorate.

At the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s annual event at Fort Benning, Georgia in 2016, the team launched their project, the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment or AEWE, which put new technologies in the hands of soldiers.

Researchers envisioned the project to on-demand print with a suite of tools that would allow for soldiers to enter mission parameters and then get a 3D printed aviation asset within 24 hours.

The team then reached out the U.S. Marine Corps and started working with them to provide a software catalog that Marines would use to select and print an unmanned aircraft system for a specific mission.

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing is maturing as a viable means to produce mission-essential parts or equipment at the point of need, said ARL engineer Larry (LJ) R. Holmes Jr. The Marines expected the production turn around to be days or weeks and they showed them that the turnaround time can be anywhere from minutes to hours.

Researchers said they plan to streamline their processes based on feedback received from the Marines in order to enable unprecedented situational awareness.

“Things like additive manufacturing with materials, artificial intelligence and machine learning, unmanned systems technologies, these will enable us to bring together the capabilities that will allow the future Soldiers and Marines the decisive edge that they need in the battlefield,” said Elias Rigas, a division chief in ARL’s Vehicle Technology Directorate.

The capability to print something from a spool of plastic that flies off on a military mission is something that captures the imagination, Holmes said.

“I think a lot of folks are interested in additive manufacturing because we’ve seen on sci-fi shows…just walking up to a user interface and saying, ‘cheeseburger,’ and there’s my cheeseburger,” he said. “I think that as additive manufacturing continues to grow and the technologies continue to evolve that we’re going to get to a point eventually where we will be making things in a similar fashion where you will walk up to your user interface and say, ‘unmanned aerial system,’ and it will make it for you.”

www.arl.army.mil


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